22 December 2017 was an important day for SPNL welcoming Aitanite’s municipal council decree to declare the village as Hima. The municipal council, , led by M. Assaad Najem, was proactive in declaring part of the municipal land as Hima for sustainable use such as ecotourism, responsible hunting, and grazing. This marks the 4th Hima at the eastern slopes of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve (SBR), West Beqaa (Khirbet Qanafar, Ain Zebdeh, Qaraoun, and Aitanit). This initiative was facilitated by SPNL partner “Cooperation Without Borders” (CWB), a Lebanese non-governmental organization aiming to promote inclusive local economic development in rural areas.
Aitanite (عيتنيت) is a village in Lebanon, in the West Beqaa region. It is located in the southern region of Lebanon, particularly the Beqaa Valley. It is also located about 1070 meters above sea level and is currently on the edge of a mountain. Below the mountain and the village is Lake Quaroun (Litani river). In addition, the villages overlook the village Qaraoun, which is just across the lake. The whole region around the village are farmlands and pastures filled with grape, olive trees, and many other fruit plants. It has approximately 880 residents.
Commenting on the establishment of the Hima, Assad Serhal, SPNL Director-General said that “the municipal council of Aitanite Hima accord will help SPNL and its partners to increase the awareness of the importance of cultural heritage by promoting the value ofAitanite’s natural environment, safeguarding the authentically unique, traditional and irreplaceable character of the village, building rapport with the local community, creating job opportunities, enhancing and promoting local facilities, and training local guides to grasp the historical developments of their town”.
“The importance of these 4 Hima municipal decisions , that it not only covers over 70% of the Eastern Slopes/West Beqaa Shouf Biosphere Reserve (SBR) joint project area for sustainable use of resources and conservation, but also for setting the stage for the identification and execution of priority areas for action, in line with MAVA funded project, based on a solid participatory policies, approved and endorsed by local authorities, on behalf of local Shouf Biosphere Reserve (SBR) communities”. Serhal added.
Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) and Al Shouf Cedar Society (ACS) will be working together on a symbolic and pilot sites in the Shouf Mountain and West Beqaa in Lebanon which include Aitanite.
As part of the MAVA Foundation’s recently launched 2016-2022 strategy, 15 partners in the Mediterranean are collaborating to implement a 6-year programme aimed at conserving Mediterranean Cultural Landscapes (M6 partnership). At the core of the M6 partnership are 4 pilot sites where 6-year field projects to conserve Mediterranean Cultural Landscapes have recently been launched, each led by a local implementing partner. These are the Shouf Mountains in Lebanon, the Island of Lemnos in Greece, the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and the Dehesas and Montados Grasslands in Spain and Portugal.
The project “Building the ecologic and socio-economic resilience of the Shouf Mountain Landscape by restoring and strengthening the socio-cultural fabric which sustains its biodiversity and cultural values” is a newly funded project by Mava for 3 years with a potential to be renewed for additional 3 years. It stems out of the work, lessons learned, and experience gained in the last two decades by two of the most reputed conservation organizations in Lebanon and the Middle East: Al Shouf Cedar Society (ACS) and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL). The Mount Lebanon range extends along the entire country for about 200 km, parallel to the Mediterranean coast. The Shouf Mountain Landscape comprises the southern half of Mount Lebanon and the adjacent West Beqaa foothills. It includes the Shouf Biosphere Reserve (SBR) – the largest protected area in the Mediterranean portion of the Middle East – with a size of 50,000 Ha and an elevation between 1,200-1,980 m ASL.
The main cultural practices supported by the project are grazing/transhumance, whereby transhumance is part of the traditional grazing system to overcome seasonal environmental constraints. Its governance is regulated by Hima for long-distance movements in the West Beqaa, and by communal systems for the short-distance movements of local shepherds. High mountain pastures are traditionally used for seasonal grazing during summer. Harvesting of wild medicinal/edible plant products is also a traditional practice used in both pastures and forests. More than 200 wild plant species of mountain flora have been traditionally used in medicine, cosmetics, and cooking, many of which are still harvested by the local communities, mainly women. Traditional dry stonewall terrace systems with vineyards, olives, and other fruit trees are part of the world cultural heritage linked to the religious and spiritual values of Mount Lebanon. Terrace cultivation is a very ancient tradition with more than 5,000 years of history in the Shouf.
Map of rivers and water springs of Aitanit
Aitanit is about (45 km) 45 minutes from Zahlé (Capital of the Bekaa valley region) and about an hour and thirty minutes from Beirut. In the winter, Aitanit experiences cool, wet, snowy conditions but in the summer, it experiences hot dry conditions. Each year, Aitanit holds a festival called Eid Al Sayde. At the festival, you can experience food cooked by the women of the town, fireworks and loud Debke, the traditional Lebanese dance.
The revival of the Hima system is empowering communities to take responsibility for managing local resources. This approach is being championed by the Society for Protection of Nature in Lebanon (BirdLife in Lebanon) and is helping to build capacity for local economic enterprises, linked to the wildlife and landscape conservation.
Over the last 60 years, the Hima community-based approach to conservation has declined and been replaced by the centralised governmental management of natural resources. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) is currently leading the revival of the Hima approach for the conservation of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in collaboration with elected local authorities.
Since 2004, the SPNL has helped to establish 19 Himas in six Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBBAs), many of these Himas convey a spiritual and religious significance.